Baby I need my bed back!

Baby I need my bed back! - Forty per cent of parents share a bed with their children - but as this mum reveals, it can devastate relationships

When I gave birth to my first baby, Anastasia, we decided she’d sleep in a Moses basket next to our bed.

After three months of trying to get some rest next to a snuffling baby who wouldn’t tolerate bedside lights or conversation above a whisper, it was a glorious day when, at three months, she moved to a cot in her own room.

Everything improved, especially my marriage — the baby’s beady-eyed presence in our bedroom turned out to be the ultimate passion-killer for me.

Who¿s been sleeping in my bed? Lydia and Rosie
Who's been sleeping in my bed? Lydia and daughter Rosie

To my astonishment, I found that several of my friends were equally desperate for this three-month epiphany — because then they could move their babies into their own beds without the risk of squashing them in their sleep.

The issue of whether you allow your child to sleep with you divides public opinion. A formidable battery of experts is drawn up on either side of this divide.

Margot Sutherland, author of The Science Of Parenting, cites research showing co-sleeping makes children likely to grow up into calm, healthy adults.

On the other side, parenting guru Gina Ford believes sharing a bed with your offspring leads to exhaustion and puts strain on the family.

Now, a nationwide survey of 3,000 adults has come down firmly on the side of Gina. It suggests that though 40 per cent of parents allow their young children to share the marital bed, at least every other night they aren’t too happy about it.

A quarter of the couples surveyed had regular arguments about bed-sharing, and almost half of the parents who did ended up sleeping in separate rooms. (Unsurprisingly, 48 per cent admitted their love life suffered as a result.) Ten per cent of men said they felt rejected, and 57 per cent of parents wished their child would sleep in their own bed.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the practice didn’t seem to make children happier: most parents felt it made them clingy.

My friend Sally, a high-powered company executive, was so determined to co-sleep with her son Thomas that she went to the lengths of moving home, downshifting from a four-bedroom house to a two- bedroom flat, so her husband would be forced to let their child sleep in their bed.

As they employed a live-in au pair who needed her own room, there was simply nowhere else that Thomas could sleep.

‘He was so cuddly,’ says Sally. ‘I was working so hard during the day that I felt I didn’t see enough of him.’

She and her husband Jim (who initially seemed happy with the idea) invested in a kingsize bed all three of them could all share. But Sally admits the effect on her marriage were anything but positive.

‘Jim and I used to have rows about it,’ she says. ‘He used to say I preferred Tom to him, which was probably true — my baby was just so undemanding and cute by comparison. But he was a bit wriggly in bed, so Jim would end up sleeping on the sofa. Our sex life wasn’t up to much after that.’

The result was predictable: Jim and Sally divorced after he found himself a new woman. And Sally is now finding it hard to persuade eight-year-old Tom that he might prefer to sleep by himself.

‘We’re doing it by stages,’ she says. ‘He doesn’t want to be in his own room, but he’s in a separate bed in my room.’ (Though her new boyfriend doesn’t like that much either.)

Another friend emails me late at night to say that while she’d love to chat about co-sleeping, she can’t because she’s too busy trying to get the three-year-old to go to bed.

He’s always slept in a ‘family bed’ with his parents. ‘Now he says, when I try to get him to go to sleep on his own: “But Mama, I don’t know how to go to sleep by myself,” ’ she says.

Dr Angharad Rudkin, a clinical psychologist who works with children and families in Hampshire, discourages co-sleeping.

‘If your child is the one who initiates getting into bed with you, then it’s not unhealthy,’ she says. ‘But it’s unhealthy if it’s you who initiates it. When bringing up children, it is hard to keep everyone happy, but a father sleeping in a separate room every night should ring alarm bells. He may well feel pushed out and jealous.’

A friend tells me how her five-year-old son creeps into their bed at night and rakes Daddy’s back with his sharp toenails until Daddy is forced out of bed, leaving the little boy in triumphant sole possession of his mother.

She thinks it’s hilarious; it strikes me as just a bit too Oedipal for comfort.

Bonding: But could sharing your bed damage your child as well as your relationship with your partner?
Bonding: But could sharing your bed damage your child as well as your relationship with your partner?

Then there’s my friend Emma, a full-time mother, who shares her marital bed with Hannah, six, and Marie, two, since a bout of flu more than a year ago.

‘It was easier to have Hannah in bed with me than having to keep getting up at night to look after her if she woke. And, of course, Marie doesn’t want to be left out, so she sleeps in the bed as well.’

Meanwhile, Pete, her husband, has moved into Hannah’s room.

‘I prefer it this way because Pete snores,’ says Emma. ‘But I do feel it’s a bit hostile of him always to be the one who gets a full night’s sleep.’

So why doesn’t she put her daughters back into their own beds? Emma’s reluctance appears to have its origins in her own childhood. ‘I was told by my father when I was four that I was too big to come into Mummy’s bed at night,’ she says.

‘I cried and cried because there was nothing more comforting than snuggling up to her at night, and I’d lost it for ever. I never want to make my girls feel like that.’

It’s not childhood trauma but laziness that has persuaded my sister Sasha to let three-year-old Joe share her bed.

‘If he wakes up at night, I’m too tired to calm him down, so I just pick him up and take him into bed with us,’ she says.

‘It’s a disaster. I have to bring all his favourite cars or he’ll have another tantrum, so while I’m trying to get back to sleep, he’s driving his digger over the cats, so they start running around, too.’ (Yes, two cats also share the bed).

And if her husband George carries Joe back to his own bed, he has to stay there for so long before the toddler stops screaming that he falls asleep on the floor.

‘Every time, I swear I’m never going to do it again,’ says Sasha. ‘But in the middle of the night, the path of least resistance always seems so attractive.’

I know what she means. Recently, my husband Richard has been away on work trips. When my second daughter, Rosie, five, had a nightmare, she slept in my bed. Ten days on, it’s become a routine.

At 3am, I hear the patter of small feet and Rosie slides under the duvet. I wrap my arms around her cuddly form and we both drift off into blissful slumber.

Realising that when my husband returns, he’ll expect to find his side of the bed unoccupied, I’ve been bribing Rosie to stay in her room. Yesterday, having for once had an undisturbed night, I went to wake the children and found them in one bed, wrapped in each other’s arms. That may be the best possible solution for all of us. ( )

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